Wednesday, December 4, 2019



I have been a fan of flu shots even when it has been difficult to get one.
The family history indoctrinated me early. Uncle Lou, who came to help my father, the first John Henry Downing, had been a doctor out west during the flu epidemic that devastated the world in 1919. He almost died from flu and overwork and had to recuperate for six months in a Vancouver hotel before returning to Saskatchewan where a street is named after him in Lanigan.
So the Downing doctors took flu very seriously in their huge family practice around Gerrard and Greenwood. And they taught their kids.
So when flu shots became available, I got one, and moved the motion on a hospital board that any doctor, nurse or worker who didn't get a flu shot would not be allowed to work during flu epidemics, and would not be paid.  I wrote columns and editorials attacking paramedics and other city personnel who refused to get flu shots.
I couldn't have agreed more when Women's College refused to let me see two grandsons in incubators,  each only 40 ounces when they were born, until I could prove I had had flu shots.
Which brings me to the last few years and the great drive by government and drug chains for everyone to get flu shots. Of course! Hallelujah!
I am in my Shopper's Drugmart at Royal York and Bloor several times a week. When you stand at the back of the store (and remember when it was the headquarters for the world's first pay-TV experiment) you watch all the men and women over 80 who are turned away because the ordinary flu shot is not recommended for them.
Last year elderly people in Etobicoke, and perhaps much of Ontario, were faced with waits of weeks if not months to get the special flu shot if they were over 80. Ironically, or maybe it's tragically, even though I'm one of the Downings who didn't struggle and become a doctor, I would say the elderly are the most vulnerable in our city to damage or death from flu.
Right now the walk-in clinics in the giant suburb of Etobicoke have no special flu shots for those over 80. (Drugstores don't give the shots to the elderly.) The walk-in clinic at Six Points, one of the largest around, may get more shots for the elderly next week while other clinics don't even expect repeat deliveries.
I haven't had the flu for years, even though an encyclopedia of other ailments have struck me. I think the flu shot program is a great PR and smart health move by the provincial health ministry.  But this annual stupidity is just dumb even for a ministry that certainly knows how to screw things up.
As a veteran hospital board member and, damn it, a consumer of health services far more than I want to be, I am baffled that such an important ministry seems to spend more time on reorganizing than actually helping patients get better medical service.
I have known 15 health ministers, mostly on a professional basis but some have been social acquaintances. Generally the ministers have been among the best in cabinet. The current minister, Christine Elliott, is so competent that I have written she should be premier. So I just don't understand why we continue to have huge glitches like this even in a program that everyone supports except for some stupid people who get their wisdom from fish entrails.
Perhaps if they spent less on advertising the need for flu shot and more on actually providing them, more of the elderly would last to spring.

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